I remember when I first saw pictures of Villa Extramuros. I thought they were so inspiring, like a contemporary house made into a home and finally into a hotel. Soon enough the pictures were all over internet, and abused by the name and the decor I thought of it as a faraway place, somewhere deep in South America. It was a very pleasing surprise to find out that it was in fact in the South of Portugal, which is next door to me in plane-language.
It’s always a strange experience, when you’ve seen dozens of pictures of a place and you finally get to see it in person. In the case of Villa Extramuros it turned out to be so much more than these picture-perfect interiors. Until I had been there I hadn’t grasped the surreal contrast between the architecture and its rural surroundings and I had no idea of the warm welcome I was going to receive.
We’re in the middle of the Alentejo, the heartland of Portugal. A peaceful and almost virgin place dotted with tiny white towns, flocks of sheep and olive trees. Lively Lisbon isn’t so far geographically, but it does seem a million years away. You have to truly envision this sleepy countryside to imagine how bold does the white shape of the villa feels in these surroundings. But wait, because it is not that kind of modern, the one that’s crushing everything around it. You soon find out that, in its own personal way, it’s a part of its environment.
One of the first things you notice if the surprising use of cork as a building material. Plenty of cork oaks grow in the area, and the material is far more versatile than you might think. Here in the villa, it gives a warm, organic feel to the architecture, creating a transition between the vegetation and the white of the walls.
As you enter the house you realized it’s actually built around a large courtyard, allowing the light to come in and creating beautiful perspectives all along the corridors.
This first floor is a bit of treasure chest, with gorgeous objects everywhere and the warmth of a real living room.
Meals are often served in the courtyard, which remains exceptionally cool, even when the sun gets very hot. It also shelters you from wind, when it makes mornings and evenings a little bit too cold. I’m always very impressed when architecture demonstrates great knowledge of the climate, allowing you to really enjoy nature, even at the height of the Alentejan summer.
The rooms are rather vast and airy (maybe a bit too sparse on the decor even, I was a bit disappointed of not finding a taste of all the treasures of the living room up there), but the main attraction here is definitely the terrace and the view.
The view should not make you forget the bathroom though. With more marble than you could dream of (in that matte finish that I love), sunlight coming from the roof and Aesop products, it is pared down and lavish at the same time. You’ll find a lot of that beautiful marble all around the house, it’s actually quite easy to come by with the Estremoz quarries next door (which we visited!)
There is a short path going down from the villa to the giant infinity pool. You can cool there for a bit and then go off to explore the surroundings. There are not much buildings around, which means you can walk around the property and see nothing but sheep and olive trees (a certain idea of paradise).
This is definitely a unique place!
Getting the opportunity to truly experience contemporary architecture isn’t so easy in Europe, but here it even fails to sum up the deal since, in the end, you get that and much more. François and Jean-Christophe, the French owners, did a wonderful job of picking a beautiful place and really making it bloom.
Villa Extramuros and the Alentejo really deserve to be discovered. I hear the landscape turns multicolored in Spring, you might want to think about it…
It was through François and Jean-Christophe that we met our great guide, Mélanie. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re in the mood for some tailormade Alentejo tour (she speaks French, German, Portuguese and English).